I have a bit of a thing for sugar cookies. The simplistic beauty of a perfect sugar cookie is, to me, just impossible to resist. I love the aromatic essence of vanilla and the not-too-sweet buttery pastry. I love the gentle toothsome resistance when they are faultlessly baked. In my quest for a truly blissful cookie I have eaten many subpar renditions, but the recipe I am about to share is one that was worth the wait.
Here are the criteria I was looking for in my ultimate cookie:
- Buttery Flavor
- Notable Vanilla Essence
- Easily Workable Dough
- Tender Crumb
- Clean Cut Edges
- Minimal Spread
First let’s take a look at how this cookie is made and then I will talk about why this sugar cookie fulfills my requirements.
1. Squish. After preparing the dough according to the recipe, squish half of the un-chilled batter onto a sheet of parchment paper into a flat rectangle or circle (you choose :)).
2. Roll. Cover the dough with a second sheet of parchment and roll until it is about 1/4 inch thick (about 0.5 cm).
3. Chill. Place the dough filled parchment on a firm base such as a cookie sheet, cardboard or foam core and pop in the freezer for 10 minutes while you roll out the other half of dough. (I don’t have a chilling picture-you don’t want to see my overcrowded freezer!)
4. Cut. Use a cookie cutter and stamp straight down to get clean right sides to your cookies. The more firm the dough is when you cut the cleaner and sharper your cookie edges will be.
Crowd your cuts to get as many cookies out of one roll as you can. This saves you time and dough quality!
5. Place. Place your cookies on a parchment lined baking sheet about 1 inch (2.5 cm) apart. These cookies do not spread much so they do not need a lot of space.
6. Bake. Bake your cookies at 350 F (177 C) for 8 to 12 minutes depending on the size and your oven. Remove when they are just starting to turn golden on the edges.
7. Cool. Cool on the baking sheet for a few minutes and then transfer to a cooling rack to cool completely. Decorate as desired!
About this recipe and why these cookies are awesome.
1. Only egg yolks are used in this recipe which means there is less water for toughening via gluten development and less puffing and distortion via water-mediated leavening. This also means this dough can be rerolled more times without losing cookie quality. The cookies above were rolled 4 times without becoming tough and overworked. (Be sure to rechill in between to minimize noted softening of clean edges as in the picture above.)
2. Butter is the primary fat used to give the very best flavor.
3. Some low protein flour is added to reduce the gluten in the batter and provide a light, tender crumb. Low protein flours also spread less than high protein flours.
4. A small amount of cream cheese is added to enhance flavor and improve the workability of the dough. The acid in cream cheese also minimizes toughness.
5. Imitation vanilla and vanilla bean paste give the cookies serious vanilla impact. It may seem odd to use imitation vanilla but most of the flavor compounds in natural vanilla extract are highly volatile and bake off at the temperatures that cookies reach. They smell great baking, but all of that essence is in the air and out of the cookie. Imitation vanilla (made from wood pulp-a natural source) is primarily vanillin which is found in natural vanilla in small amounts. Vanillin is less volatile than many of the other flavor components of vanilla and hangs around post-baking in the cookies to keep them flavorful. A little vanilla bean paste adds complexity that stays with the cookie.
6. These cookies are mixed with a reverse mixing method where the fat and dry ingredients are combined before the liquids are added. This method coats the flour grains with fat which prevents gluten-mediated toughening and also keeps the cookies flat and pristine looking. Less gluten also means longer work time with the dough.
There you have it. All the nitty gritty behind why these cookies are easy to work with, delicious and beautiful!
One more thing to note. Some recipes call for re-chilling your cookies after they have been cut but before they are baked. I tried the recipe without chilling and with chilling the cutouts and I could find no discernible differences. So save yourself some time and pop them right in the oven after they are cut.
Here is a peek at some of the cookies decorated. I will upload a tutorial on decorating these cookies this weekend.
- 1/2 cup (4 ounces, or 113 grams) unsalted butter
- 2/3 cup (4 ounces, or 113 grams) granulated sugar
- 1 cup (5 ounces, or 142 grams) all-purpose/plain flour
- ½ cup (2 ½ ounces, or 71 grams) pastry flour or instant flour* (such as Wondra)
- ¾ teaspoon (4 grams) baking powder
- ¼ teaspoon (2 grams) salt
- 1 ounce (28 grams) cream cheese
- 1 large egg yolk
- 1 teaspoon vanilla extract (preferably imitation)
- ½ teaspoon vanilla bean paste
- Preheat oven to 350 F (177 C). Line a baking sheet with parchment paper.
- Beat the butter and sugar for 2 minutes on medium-high speed until light and fluffy. Sprinkle in the flours, baking powder and salt and mix on low until the mixture resembles wet sand, about 30 seconds.
- Whisk together the cream cheese, egg yolk and vanillas. With the mixer on low slowly add the cream cheese mixture to the butter mixture. Mix until just combined and uniform, about 15 seconds.
- Divide the dough in half and roll each half between sheets of parchment paper. Place in the freezer for 10 minutes to chill. Remove one sheet of dough and cut into desired shapes. Cut shapes as close as possible to get the most cuts out of each sheet.
- Place the cutouts on the prepared baking sheet about an inch apart. Bake for 9-12 minutes or until just beginning to turn golden on the edges. Reroll scraps and chill while you cut the next chilled sheet of dough. The dough can be rerolled 3 to 4 times. Cool baked cookies on baking sheet for a few minutes and then transfer to a wire rack to cool completely. Ice or decorate as desired. Makes 18-24 cookies.
- *If you do not have access to pastry or instant flour you may substitute self-rising flour. Use 2 1/2 ounces (71 grams) self-rising flour plus 1/8 teaspoon salt and omit the baking powder and 1/4 teaspoon salt. (The cookies in these pictures were made using self-rising flour)